Postcards From A Hospital

by Doireann Ní Ghríofa

(To S.B.)

The afternoon that I walk through the hospital doors, I walk away from a poem in which I've grown a forest. I imagine the laptop cursor blinking in my absence until the screen darkens. In the emergency room, a long scroll unravels from a machine bound to me. I find some paper and scribble notes, the curve and dot of question marks. When a nurse pushes a syringe under my skin, I turn my head toward the window, my eye raking the horizon in search of a tree.

I lie in surgical theatre, naked from the breast down. Spinal morphine lifts me. Fourteen people in blue gowns and masks work on my body. I watch my daughter's birth. She is the tiniest baby I have ever seen. Outside, a sapling bends towards the window and watches too.

Minus one: my daughter is taken to the basement of the building, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I lie on floor three, restrained by drips, catheter, and cannula, livid with my anaesthetised legs. I fret that she is waking up alone, blinking in my absence. On the line between land and sky, trees wave to me, leaves fluttering green and lush at the end of each twig. Branch begins to rhyme with distance.

In a wheelchair, I am brought to my daughter's side. She lies in an incubator, surrounded by strangers and wires. Her skin is pale, luminous, translucent. A bruise blackens on one tiny hand, where blood was drawn to be sent abroad. Under the shadow, blue veins branch and splay. The word I hear most these days is blood - Blood blood - Blood blood - a steady thud that reverberates in my head like a pulse. Holding her in my arms, I remember diagrams I learned for long-ago exams, the arterial tree, its vessels branching and splitting from the heart outward.

I sit on a single hard plastic chair under a fluorescent light and stare at my tiny daughter. She lies very still. She will not feed. She will not wake. We are moved to the acute area, where her incubator sits by a glass door: EMERGENCY EXIT. Every hour I descend to the basement in search of my Persephone. I scrub my hands and arms again and again with oily red surgical soap. I sit by the incubator and cry. My skin turns scaly and raw. My eyes grow red, then dry. I cry. I laugh. I cry.

Weeks pass. The nurses tell me that my daughter looks like me. I doubt them as I peer at my reflection in the toilet mirror, but in her incubator she too is dark-haired, pale, trembling. She lies very still among wires and tubes. When she opens her eyes, I remember the mirror at the heart of Francis Bacon's studio. In that wilderness of brushes, tins, paint, easels and slashed canvases, a single circular mirror slants against a far wall - glass eye, a calm reflection of commotion. Her eye, when it opens, is dark as a mirror at night, drinking from the muddle and movement of the ward. Her eye, when it opens, seeks me out like a mouth.